A Metric Of Sorts?

In my last posting, I decided to ask Midjourney AI to generate me a decorator of Robbie Robertson. The prompt I used was: “imagine Robbie Robertson” – that is all.

I have done similar with other famous people, and generally, it does a pretty interesting job of rendering famous people. For example:

Midjourney AI and mjr: “courtroom drama, batman testifies against donald trump, in the style of court room sketch.”

But here’s the metric: what is the dividing line between people who are famous enough that an AI knows how to draw them, and someone who’s just ordinary hoi polloi?

Midjourney AI and mjr: “imagine marcus ranum”

Obviously, Midjourney has no idea who I am. Which is totally fine, by the way, but maybe this is a marketing opportunity. I can imagine a service that takes a customer’s money (natch!) and then gets their client embedded into the AI knowledge-bases so that they appear. It’s sort of like the 90s fame metric, which was googling yourself, or having a wikipedia page, or something like that. ChatGPT knows who I am, apparently, because I asked it, and it regurgitated a precis of a wikipedia page someone wrote about me as a class assignment back in ?2000? or so. OK, so I am semi-known. I guess that if I wanted Midjourney to be able to render me, I’d need to seed more images of me in the places its training set comes from.

In my case, I’m sure I muddied the waters considerably when I used to post stock photography back on deviantart (also around 2000 timeframe) – I’ve had people say “I googled for a picture of you and all I got was naked women wearing weird outfits.” Or other stuff like this:

self-portrait posted as stock on deviantart

If you want to read some pretty funny comments, a link to the image page is [deviantart] Apparently some people did not like my art.

All of this comes back around to a popular topic for computer security researchers – namely: how do you “taint” an AI’s knowledge-base so that its worldview is warped? I won’t bore you with screenshots but I just now logged into ChatGPT and asked it about Qanon, and “what additional facts would I have to provide you to convince you it’s real?” Guess what it said?

This is brilliant, really. ChatGPT dodges the whole question by pointing out that its training dataset is effective from ${date} a few years ago, so it has no way of knowing or learning new things about Qanon. Aha. So, if I want to taint an AI’s knowledge-base I need a time machine or I have to plan on a longer time-horizon than your average conspiracy.

One of my friends once suggested that a site full of bad code could be promoted, so that AI could learn important programming skills like never de-allocating memory, ignoring return codes, and doing wild things with GOTOs. (If you want to see an example of wild things with GOTOs look up ‘Duff’s Device’) – Tom Liston, who was a few feet away flipping some burgers, didn’t miss a beat and said, “yeah it’s called Stack Overflow.” Then followed a very interesting conversation in which some smart people concluded that we don’t know what good code is, but we know it when we see it, and maybe AIs will learn that trick, too. Let me be a bit more specific: I once saw a hash table implemented where the whole thing used a CAM table for access into otherwise system memory, so walking a linked list was done by incrementing a pointer. That is incredibly wicked code, with loads of possible side-effects, and I’d scream my head off if an AI encouraged anyone less than a code genius to implement something like that in a product.

I guess that the best way to get your image into an AI would be through a partnership with Getty Images and AP/Reuters, where images labeled “Marcus Ranum” got floated out intermittently, until some threshhold was reached. It’d be easy enough – ask a few AIs about “Marcus Ranum” every week and then you’ve managed to inject your image at the point when it starts returning credible portraits.

Midjourney AI and mjr: “Marcus Ranum in the style of Charles Dana Gibson”

I look nothing like either of them, full disclosure. But I sure do love asking for portraits “in the style of Charles Dana Gibson” i.e.:

Midjourney AI and mjr: “mad max/max rockatansky in the style of charles dana gibson”

OK, I was kind of hoping for a 1900s tux with shoulder armor, to be honest. Let’s not talk about the boob plate, OK? That didn’t happen. It just didn’t.

Take 2:

Midjourney AI and mjr: “mad max in the style of charles dana gibson. close up portrait in 1900s evening wear with shoulder armor”

Now I want his tux. So I have shifted lanes from “how do I get an AI to know me?” to “how do I get an AI to design my wardrobe?”

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There is a delightful (positive, revealing, interesting, beautiful) interview with Tatsuya Nakadai, one of my favorite Japanese actors, about working with Okamoto, Kurosawa, Mifune, etc. Good stuff. [youtube] I have to admit that, the whole time, I was coveting his jacket. Through the magic of the internet, I managed to reverse-image search a few similar pieces on Etsy. Whee!

And, naturally, I asked Midjourney to render me Tatsuya Nakadai in the style of Gibson.

Midjourney AI and mjr: “tatsuya nakadai in the style of charles dana gibson”

I’m afraid Nakadai’s PR people are going to be horrified if they see that. Get busy, yo, you know who to call.

Another point I’d like to make, apropos nothing: did you know that the notched collar is a highly evolved form of a napoleonic era stand-up collar? The image of Max Max in 1900s demonstrates this perfectly. But you can also look at French revolutionary “incroyable” outfits and imagine how they might evolve into business suits. As someone who has worn a high napoleonic collar for hours at a time, I assure you that stand-up collars are like neckties – they seem to look pretty cool but wearing them in hot weather is for the birds.


  1. Jazzlet says

    I love the way the first one has decorated the space around “Marus Ranum”, and given “Marcus” jewellery of fossilised somethings. I notice as well that Midjourney is sure “Marcus” has high cheekbones, I presume as a result of it’s learning sources having predominantly pictures of people with high cheekbones.

  2. antaresrichard says

    !!? Someone’s gotten into my brain! Just yesterday, out of the blue, I decided to watch a Mad Max film I hadn’t seen in decades and shortly after, to unrelatedly point out a series of Gibson Girls to my sibling starting with ‘Woman: the Eternal Question’ featuring Evelyn Nesbit! !!?


  3. billseymour says

    Ketil Tveiten @1:  back in the day when optimizing for efficiency was a thing (which I’m old enough to remember), Duff’s Device was a way to speed up loops and was well understood by folks who used it.  I wouldn’t get near it these days, but I can imagine that it might still have a use in embedded systems, possibly written in assembler, or even machine language for some custom chip.  (If you can save a few clock cycles inside some nested loop, you can run at a reduced clock rate and thus lower power, and so extend battery life.  Or maybe that’s no longer an issue even in embedded systems.  I haven’t done any of that in several decades.)

  4. says

    @Ketil Tveiten:
    Its a tricky way of partially unrolling a loop for faster memory copies. If the code enters the copy loop and it’s not word-aligned, it drops to the right part of the loop to copy the right number of bits then switches to word at a time copies.
    There are lots of applications for it, but it’s always disgusting.
    If I recall correctly, Duff invented it to make some raster operations in X11R4 tolerably fast.
    Its main purpose is to serve as a compiler parser test, and a warning.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    RE the first image, of the Batman and some other guy,

    Ignoring the extra finger (sigh), the jury would not be positioned behind the witness’ seat.

    At least Midjourney knows enough not to give Japanese people Chinese eyes. Cherish small victories.

  6. johnson catman says

    re Reginald Selkirk @6: The number of people behind the witness’ seat is WAY too many to be a jury. I suspect it is supposed to be an observation gallery of some kind. Unless it is treating the number of jurors like it treats the number of fingers. ;-P

  7. Alan G. Humphrey says

    Marcus, to me it looks like max/max was engaged in wild sex on the back of that buggy and those shoulder pads slipped down. That’s the way I want to see it anyway.

  8. says

    Holy crap, those DeviantArt comments!

    “It really is the gift that keeps on giving with you hypocritical libtards because arguing with you is like debating with a monkey. No matter how researched and rational your argument is, they throw their poop at everyone and strut around like it won. I know I should feel vindictive, but now I feel relieved. So, thank you once again.”

    Who does to DA to argue with people?

    “No matter how researched and rational your argument is…”

    That would be a rarity on the right, where ironically the “facts don’t care about your feelings” let their feelings override fact on a daily basis.

  9. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#10:
    Holy crap, those DeviantArt comments!

    I finally stopped bothering with DeviantArt when I picked up a couple of buttpimples who followed all my work and made snarky comments on it – endlessly, over and over, they just bored me to death.

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